Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Precious Points Cost Gunners

3 crucial points in the Premier League race but at what cost? Arsenal dispatched Stoke City 1-0 tonight, thanks to a Sebastien Squillaci header in the 8th minute, and are keeping the pressure on Man United who are now only 1 point ahead at the top of the league. But victory came at a price, with Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott both forced from the pitch with injuries, the severity of which has yet to be determined. Fingers crossed they are only out of action for days, not weeks.

I think most Arsenal fans expected a tough scrappy game tonight and that's exactly what happened. The Gunners started brightly, with Theo hitting the post after just a minute played. Arsenal kept the pressure on Stoke and it soon paid off when a Jack Wilshere corner found its way to Nicklas Bendtner, who lobbed the ball onto the head of Squillaci to head the ball home for the lead. Not a beautiful goal like we Gooners may have become accustomed to, but an important goal nonetheless, and Squillaci's first in the Premier League. It was a good pass from Bendtner too, his only meaningful contribution this evening (but how important in the scheme of things).

Once the Gunners went 1-0 up, they dominated possession but couldn't extend the lead, much to the frustration of all Arsenal-supporting spectators. The game became quite niggly, with Stoke typically nipping at the heels of every player wearing the red and white. Fabregas was taken off just five minutes after the goal, with what looked like a knee problem (although they're saying on Radio 5 now it might be his hamstring - shiiiiiiiiit). Hopefully he is not seriously hurt and his substitution was just a precaution ahead of Sunday's Carling Cup Final against Birmingham (I think having the captain fully fit on Sunday is going to help us immensely). Arshavin replaced Cesc and I thought he played quite well for the remainder of the match. Nasri and Wilshere were masterful in midfield, pulling the strings in the captain's absence, which was absolutely crucial in maintaining possession throughout the contest. The defence played well, with Djourou and Squillaci coming out on top against Stoke's big target men - pleasing to see given that our squad are vertically challenged in most departments. Overall this was not a nice game to watch, in fact it was downright horrible most of the time. Despite Stoke failing to create many clear-cut goal opportunities, every set-piece and every stupid time wasting Rory Delap throw-in looked dangerous. When you're only 1-0 up and have wasted larger leads previously in the season, the nerves build up as time ticks down. So when the final whistle blew, I was more relieved than happy.

So Arsene Wenger's men came away with the all 3 valuable points tonight but losing Fabregas and Walcott could really hinder our chances on Sunday, as well as the upcoming games against Barcelona and other Premier League games in the near future. Attention now turns to Wembley, and the Carling Cup Final against Birmingham. I've booked the day off work so I'll be there in the pub to watch us try and end our trophy drought. Really, really, really want us to finally win this bloody competition, as the League Cup is the only domestic trophy Wenger hasn't won. Looking forward to Sunday! Until then...

Thanks for reading.

Just heard that Walcott has an ankle sprain, and so will miss the Carling Cup Final on Sunday. A major blow, his pace would have given the Blues a real problem. Balls...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Oh What A Night

Arsenal shocked the football world last night, coming from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates in the first leg of the first round of the knock-out stages in the Champions League. It was the match that everyone wanted and thankfully it was my side that came out on top, recording a historic victory in what was an absolute classic.

I was at the pub early to get a good seat for the game and the place was a madhouse, absolutely packed (thankfully, the majority of spectators seemed to be fellow Gooners). In fact it was so busy I didn't get my food which I ordered at 7 until kickoff began. Whilst enjoying a burger, the Gunners started brightly, nearly taking an early lead after 5 minutes or so. Fabregas looped a ball over the Barca defence into the path of van Persie, who volleyed from a tight angle right at Victor Valdes. So close, but a promising start. However it didn't take long for the Catalans to show just how dangerous they could be when Messi narrowly missed putting his side in front after 15 minutes. A David Villa pass put Messi in the clear but his chipped shot was inches wide. A huge sigh of relief could be heard around the Emirates and in the pub - Arsenal had dodged a bullet, as Messi usually converts those sort of chances 99% of the time. Moments later the Gunners were on the attack again when Walcott's pass split the Barca defence and put Fabregas into a great position, whose cross for the diving van Persie was just narrowly cut out by Abidal. But seconds later the Emirates was stunned. Messi played a beautiful through ball between Djourou and Clichy into David Villa, who made no mistake dispatching the ball underneath Szczesny to make it 1-0 Barca. Things almost went from bad to worse when seconds later Szczesny made a great save from Pedro that could have buried Arsenal completely. Luckily the Gunners didn't crumble and immediately replied when Wilshere played in van Persie with a beautiful pass, which the Dutchman really should have converted (he sliced his left foot shot badly). The game was frantic now, end to end stuff, but again Barca showed just how lethal they could be; after picking his way through our defence Messi played in Pedro who looked certain to score, but Szczesny did well again, making a fantastic save to deny the Spaniards a second goal. Messi bundled the rebound in but thankfully he was judged to be offside (although he probably wasn't). Before I knew it the half time whistle was blown, 45 minutes gone just like that.

Arsenal started the second half just as they did the first, looking dangerous and attacking with speed but still struggling to carve out a clear goal scoring opportunity. Then after 67 minutes Messi nearly put the game beyond doubt. After Eboue failed to clear, Iniesta put Messi in to make it 2-0 but the Argentinian star could only hit the side netting. But wasteful Barca were soon made to pay for not converting their chances. After Messi failed to score, Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola brought on the defensive Seydou Keita for David Villa, in an effort to shore up the defence and hold on to their lead. Wenger made a substitution also, bringing on Arshavin for Song, a change that would prove critical. With Barcelona now sitting back (well, not quite, they are Barcelona after all!) Arsenal went all out to claw themselves back into the game and in the 78th minute the North London side struck. After some work down the left flank between Arshavin and Clichy, the Frenchman chipped the ball over Gerard Pique into van Persie's path who smashed the ball past Valdes from the tightest of angles. When everyone watching expected a cross, including Valdes, the Dutch magician squeezed home the most accurate shot you are likely to see in a long time to make it 1-1, and game on. It just had to be van Persie, my favourite player in recent times, that made the difference - a phenomenal moment. The Emirates and the pub erupted (I hurt my voice-box from shouting) and it wasn't long until things got even better. Five minutes later, after Koscielny intercepted what could have been an extremely dangerous Barca pass, El Capitan, Barcelona's favourite Gunner Cesc Fabregas, played an incredible ball across half the pitch that split the Spaniard's defence wide open, releasing Nasri. Instead of opting to shoot, Nasri cut the ball back and played it across the penalty box to Arshavin, who stylishly clipped the ball around the Barca defenders and past Valdes to make it 2-1 and send every Arsenal fan in the world into total euphoria. Within five minutes Arsene Wenger's men had come back against the best team in the world to take the lead. Incredible stuff. Arsenal managed to hold on for the win, but not without some panic when Szczesny saved well from Dani Alves, then Arshavin's attempt at nodding the ball back to Szczesny was almost intercepted and converted by Alves, before finally Eboue cleared the ball with an almighty hoof into Row Z. The final whistle blew seconds later and Arsenal had done it, completed the impossible task of knocking the Catalan giants off their perch, taking a 2-1 advantage into the second leg. Now obviously the tie is only half-way complete, there is still the daunting prospect of facing Barca again at the Camp Nou, but this win will provide the team with a massive psychological boost heading into that game, and hopefully for the rest of the season. Because last night proved, that above all, when Arsenal play at their best, they can beat the best teams in the world. What a classic.

I can't really fault any of our players after the performance they gave as team. Jack Wilshere raised his game on the biggest stage of all and was easily the man of the match for me. He consistently turned and rolled away from the opposition's attempts to dispossess him but he was always aware, eyes up constantly looking for a teammate. A fantastic game for our English prodigy, proving to the masses that he's not just 'one for the future', but he's performing right now. I think credit must also go to Laurent Koscielny who had a wonderful night in defence considering who he was up against. By no means did he have Messi in his back-pocket, but I reckon that Koscielny probably gave the Argentinian the hardest game he's had for some time, and Kos managed to keep Lionel from reeking too much havoc against us. A classy game from the Frenchman and a big "fuck you" to the critics who doubt his ability at this level.

Things got even better this morning (I know what you're saying, "How on earth could things be better?!") when I saw that my Cavaliers had handed the World Champion Lakers their third defeat in a row, recording a momentous win heading into the All-Star break, beating Los Angeles 104-99. Ramon Sessions was a beast, attacking the rim at will, and ended up recording 32 points and 8 assists. Sweet revenge against Kobe and his boys since the last time we played L.A. A memorable win for sure and it deserves a picture of course!

Anyway, I've got a lot of uni work coming up soon so I'll blog what I can when I can. If you've made it this far through this essay of a post, thank you very much for reading!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Batten Down The Hatches

Arsenal have a very tough task ahead of them tomorrow night as Spanish giants Barcelona travel to the Emirates for the first leg of this epic Champions League tie. Just one year after facing the Catalans in this competition, Arsenal are up against it again as they try to beat what the majority of football fans and critics agree are the best football team of the present day. Naturally, being the best team on the planet means Barcelona have the world's best player, the unstoppable Lionel Messi. The litte Argentinian magician already has 37 goals in all competitions this season. 37!!! The odds are obviously stacked in Barca's favour, but we all know football games aren't won on paper, and as Arsenal proved in the first leg last year, the Gunners have it in them to cause an upset.

Not that I'm actually expecting us to win this tie. Its going to be incredibly difficult to knock the Catalan side out, especially as they have relatively few injury concerns and are on fire in their domestic campaign, as they look set to clinch another league title (only Mourinho's Madrid are anywhere near Barca, trailing by 5 points, which is massive in that title chase). However, it is not all doom and gloom for the Gunners, despite the idea of Eboue playing at right-back tomorrow in Sagna's absence (suspension). Arsenal fans everywhere will be breathing a massive sigh of relief today with the news that Samir Nasri has returned from his hamstring injury and could play a part against Barca. Arsene Wenger hasn't revealed the starting eleven for the game just yet, but we will find out tomorrow whether or not Nasri will start. I'm praying to the football gods that Nasri is 100% and his hamstring is all healed up; we will need the Frenchman at full strength if we are to stand any chance of beating Barcelona. No doubt Nasri will be looking to show Barca his best stuff on Europe's biggest stage, and to add to his impressive 14 goals this season.

I will be at the pub for the game, shaking in panic every time Barca touch the ball. I will probably weep into my pint when Messi starts guiding past our players... Oh the humanity! Here's hoping that the Gunners put up a good fight and van Persie hits a hat trick in an Arsenal rout, sending Pep Guardiola and his men back to Spain with their tails between their legs. I can dream can't I?

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Super Bowl XLV Preview

Consider me a fully-fledged Packers fan tomorrow. Perhaps the grandest sporting event in the world, the one for all the marbles, yes its Super Bowl XLV and I'll be at the Beau Nash in my local Bath to watch the big game, and it's going to be quite a messy one (4am lock-in). Last year was a lot of fun in the pub and I expect it'll be another great night. I was pretty disappointed when I saw the Jets lose to Pittsburgh two weeks ago, as the Steelers making ANOTHER Super Bowl was going to be the only thing that would put a dampener on the night. Typically, this became reality, so we are stuck watching Ben Roethlisberger and company AGAIN which is not my ideal Super Bowl at all. The only thing that can brighten my mood tomorrow night is the prospect of the Packers handing the Steelers a humiliating defeat, a big can of whoop-ass in fact. I will be crossing all fingers and toes that this comes true. Anybody but the Steelers... plus Aaron Rodgers is pretty darn good and Green Bay deserve a championship a lot more than Pittsburgh do (haven't they got enough already? Sheesh...)

Just remember Green Bay. Don't turn your back on Big Ben... GO PACKERS!!!

Enjoy the game folks.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Heartbreak Against The Pacers

The Cavaliers lost a close one last night at home against the Pacers, letting a late lead slip as they crashed to a 117-112 defeat, their 22nd in a row now. Despite a fantastic effort from Ramon Sessions, the Cavs just couldn't hold out for the win. This horrible losing streak doesn't look like going away any time soon, and Cleveland are on track now to make NBA history for the most consecutive losses (breaking a record the organisation already owns).

The Cavs started slow, forcing difficult shots and not converting on any of them, letting the Pacers get an early 12-0 lead. It looked like the game was shaping up to be a blowout but this young Cavs side battled back and cut the Pacers' lead down to 5 points at half time. Byron Scott's men continued to work hard and finally managed to level the score in the third quarter, and even took a 3 point lead late in the fourth. But, as we've become accustomed to this season, the Cavs made bad decisions down the stretch (Hickson taking that jumpshot was awful) and Darren Collison's three pointer with just over a minute left turned out to be the dagger. Anthony Parker tried to reply for the Cavs but he rushed a tough shot in the lane (although it did appear Roy Hibbert fouled him with a push) and that was it, game over for the Cavs as Danny Granger went on to hit some free throws and doom the home side to yet another loss. It doesn't get any easier for the Cavs as they travel to Memphis tomorrow and then play Portland at the Q on Saturday. That NBA record of consecutive losses is practically in the bag...

However, I'd like to finish this post with some positives, cos that's the kind of guy I am. Ramon Sessions - 25 points and 9 assists, hitting 13 of 14 from the line - a fantastic game from the dynamic point guard. I have to agree with John Krolik over at Cavs: The Blog, the Indiana defence really did make Sessions look like Tony Parker, but I don't mind when I get to see that kind of performance. Early in the season Sessions was pissing me off with his constant need to attack the basket without a second thought, but it seems like he's beginning to pick his battles a little better now, making clever drives and dishing out a lot more often. Plus, he's about the only Cavalier who is willing to attack the opposition defence with any regularity. So yeah, Sessions had a great night and I'd like to see more performances like that from him in Mo's absence. Anthony Parker should get a round of applause too, as he had a good night also. Parker finished the game with 17 points on 7-11 shooting, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc; not bad for the old veteran with a bad back. The young guys started slowly but Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga came to life in the second half, finishing with 19 and 12 points respectively. They are obviously still very rough around the edges but they have the potential and work ethic to address their flaws and can hopefully become key players in the Cavs lineup in the future. I was particularly impressed with Manny last night, he was at full-tilt all game and I think he could become a very important player for us - the Cavaliers front office got a diamond in the rough there. However, the less said about JJ Hickson's night, the better. He tries hard (most of the time) but he is making some dumb plays out there. I don't want to go into too much detail as I really want Hickson to succeed in Cleveland, but Rich at Cavalier Thoughts has clearly seen enough. Sorry JJ.

The Cavs are going to keep plugging away for the rest of the season but its obvious now that the off-season is going to provide more joy than the next couple of months. I'm strangely looking forward to this year's draft and if I have enough time away from working on my dissertation and other uni work, I'll try and do a player preview or two on potential Cavs draft picks (Jared Sullinger 4TW).

I will leave you now, but not without showing you this effort from Alonzo Gee last night. What.A.Dunk.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading.